The six sequences of ADAM’s collection, part 1: Pop Functionalism and Mass Production.

In a six-part series published on our website every two months, we take a detailed look at the design collection housed in Brussels’ Art and Design Atomium Museum (ADAM) through the time-stamped sequences it uses in order to provide a more linear reading of its extensive selection, spawning mid-century innovations to current day creations. For the first installment, exhibitions director Arnaud Bozzini discusses the museum’s first movement, Pop Functionalism and Mass Production, and its intention to reflect the expression of a new era in design – relaxed, lighthearted, less constrained and less conservative – as well as an almost psychedelic propensity to escape the times’ political crisis.

The general idea proposed by the museum’s curatorial team – consisting of Alexandra Midal, Thierry Belenger, Pierre Lhoas and Arnaud Bozzini – of the Plasticarium collection exhibition is to show the impact of plastics in the creativity of design and art, from the fifties to the present day. We thought it logical to start our narrative with the topic of Pop Functionalism and Mass Production through a kind of evolution gallery of plastic design, not unlike the ones you’d find in a Museum of Natural Sciences. During its heyday in the 1960s, plastic was associated with both the time’s economic boom and a generation that rejected its parents’ traditional values. We liked how the inexpensive plastic furniture of the Swinging Sixties reflected the baby boomers’ call for freedom and these pieces were seen by all as the expression of a new era – relaxed, lighthearted, less constrained and less conservative. Yet we wanted the public to be aware that they also offered an almost psychedelic sensation of escape from the different wars raging at the time – the looming dangers of the Cold War especially.

During its heyday in the 1960s, plastic was associated with both the time’s economic boom and a generation that rejected its parents’ traditional values.

It was in a mockup American kitchen at the opening of the American National Exhibition in 1959 that U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the U.S.S.R. Communist Party, argued over their national production of consumer goods in front of the cameras. Echoing this “kitchen debate”, a great many social and political arguments arose on the subject of design, even over such seemingly trivial and insignificant matters as tableware and electrical appliances. The 1960s were also a fitting place to start for us, as they marked a period of unprecedented expansion for design. The machine age and the aesthetics of efficient functioning that characterized good design were supported by a thriving economy. This was the era of the “second industrial revolution”, of mass culture, of a leisure-oriented society and of prosperity. With its bold, colourful forms, pop-art design epitomized this prolific inexpensive output and carefree consumption and our team really wanted, during the first steps of our visitors, to pay homage to plastic as a cheerful, unpretentious creative marvel of popular design.

With its bold, colourful forms, pop-art design epitomized this prolific inexpensive output and carefree consumption and our team really wanted, during the first steps of our visitors, to pay homage to plastic as a cheerful, unpretentious creative marvel of popular design.

ADAM’s next exhibition, Bauhaus #itsalldesign, opens to the public on 16th March.